In the world of project management, it’s easy to get lost in the maze of outputs.

The tangible nature of outputs, coupled with the satisfaction of ticking off tasks, often leads project managers astray from the true north – the outcomes.

The allure of activity is a powerful one. It’s human nature to want to see progress, to have something to show for our efforts. Outputs, being the direct and immediate results of our actions, provide that sense of achievement. They are the milestones we reach, the deliverables we produce, the tasks we complete. They are concrete, measurable, and satisfying.

But herein lies the danger. In our rush to produce outputs, we can lose sight of why we are doing what we are doing. We can become so focused on the ‘doing’ that we forget about the ‘why’. This is when we risk confusing outputs with outcomes.

Outcomes, on the other hand, are the changes or benefits that occur because of our actions. They are the ultimate goals of our projects, the reasons why we undertake them in the first place. Outcomes are often less tangible and immediate than outputs, but they are far more meaningful and impactful.

The deceptive similarity between outputs and outcomes

So why do project managers often get distracted by outputs?

One reason could be the pressure to demonstrate progress. There will always be a demand for quick results. Outputs, being more immediate and visible, can give the illusion of progress. But this can be misleading. Just because we are busy producing outputs does not necessarily mean we are making progress towards our desired outcomes.

Another reason could be the complexity and ambiguity of outcomes. Outcomes are often more difficult to define, measure, and achieve than outputs. They require a deeper understanding of the project’s purpose and a longer-term perspective. This can be challenging, especially when faced with the day-to-day pressures of project management.

The challenge lies in the deceptive similarity between outputs and outcomes. At first glance, they may seem interchangeable. After all, both are the results of our efforts.

However, a closer look reveals a crucial distinction that can make or break the success of a project.

Outputs are the direct, tangible results of activities.

Outputs are easy to measure and quantify.

They provide immediate feedback on our performance and productivity.

They are the stepping stones that pave the way towards our goals.

However, outputs are not the end goal.

They are merely the means to an end.

The end goal is the outcome.

Outcomes represent the ‘why’ behind our ‘what’. They are the reason we undertake projects in the first place. They are the ultimate measure of our success.

However, outcomes are often more difficult to define, measure, and achieve than outputs. They require a deeper understanding of the project’s purpose, a broader perspective on its impact, and a longer-term view of its results. This is where the challenge lies.

The deceptive similarity between outputs and outcomes can lead us to confuse the two. We may fall into the trap of focusing on outputs at the expense of outcomes. We may mistake activity for progress, quantity for quality, busyness for effectiveness.

Understanding the distinction between outputs and outcomes is crucial for effective project management. It helps us stay focused on the big picture, make strategic decisions, and create meaningful value. It enables us to align our actions with our objectives, our efforts with our goals, our outputs with our outcomes.

strtgcommsgrp - outputs vs outcomes

Outputs vs Outcomes – A Matter of Perspective

So, how do we tell the difference between outputs and outcomes?

It’s all about perspective.

Outputs are what we do, while outcomes are what we achieve. This distinction, while seemingly simple, is a fundamental one that can significantly impact the success of our projects.

The crucial difference between outputs and outcomes lies in their relationship with our project’s objectives. Outputs are directly linked to our activities – they are the immediate results of what we do. Outcomes, however, are directly linked to our objectives – they are the ultimate results of why we do what we do.

In other words, outputs are process-oriented, while outcomes are goal-oriented.

Outputs focus on the means, while outcomes focus on the ends.

Outputs measure effort, while outcomes measure effect.

Understanding the difference between outputs and outcomes requires a shift in perspective. It requires us to look beyond the immediate, tangible results of our activities (the outputs), and focus on the longer-term, meaningful impacts of our actions (the outcomes).

We must think not just about what we are doing, but more importantly, why we are doing it and what we hope to achieve.

Sidebar: The Mindset Shift – Embracing outcome-oriented thinking

Being clear about objectives and outcomes is not just a matter of strategy, but also of psychology. It requires a fundamental shift in mindset – from being output-focused to becoming outcome-oriented.

Traditional project management for many communicators have been largely output-focused. The emphasis has been on completing tasks, producing deliverables, and meeting deadlines. Success has been measured in terms of the quantity of outputs produced – the number of tasks completed, the number of deliverables produced, the adherence to deadlines.

This output-focused mindset is reinforced by the immediate feedback that outputs provide – the satisfaction of ticking off tasks, the tangible results of our efforts, the visible progress we make.

However, an outcome-oriented mindset requires us to look beyond the immediate, tangible results of our activities. It requires us to focus on the longer-term, meaningful impacts of our actions. It requires us to think not just about what we are doing, but more importantly, why we are doing it and what we hope to achieve.

An outcome-oriented mindset measures success not in terms of the quantity of outputs produced, but in terms of the quality of outcomes achieved. It values impact over activity, effectiveness over efficiency, progress over productivity.

Making the shift from an output-focused to an outcome-oriented mindset requires us to be clear about our objectives and outcomes from the outset, to align our activities with our goals, and to regularly review our progress towards achieving our outcomes. We must rediscover how to use outputs as stepping stones towards our outcomes, not as ends in themselves.

strtgcommsgrp - a 5-step process to outcome-oriented success

A 5-step process to outcome-oriented success

Embarking on the journey to achievement requires a clear roadmap. We present a five-step process to help you convert your goals and objectives into outcomes.

Take it as a practical guide that will provide you with the tools you need to stay focused on the outcomes, using the outputs as data to guide your direction.

Define your outcomes: Clearly define your outcomes. What changes or benefits do you hope to achieve as a result of your project? These should be aligned with your project’s objectives and should represent the ‘why’ behind your ‘what’. Be as specific as possible, and ensure that your outcomes are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (i.e. SMART).

Identify your outputs: Identify the outputs that will lead to your desired outcomes. These are the tangible products or services that will result from your activities. Remember, outputs are not the end goal, but the means to an end. They should serve as stepping stones towards your outcomes.

Align your activities with your outcomes: Once you have identified your outputs, align your activities with your outcomes. This means ensuring that every task you undertake, every deliverable you produce, every action you take, is directly contributing to your desired outcomes. This alignment is crucial for staying focused on the outcomes and not getting distracted by the outputs.

Monitor your progress: As you progress with your project, regularly monitor your progress towards achieving your outcomes. Use your outputs as data to guide your direction. Are your outputs leading to your desired outcomes? If not, what adjustments do you need to make? Regular monitoring and adjustment are key to staying on track.

Reflect and learn: Look back at the progress you’ve made towards your outcomes, not just the outputs you’ve produced. Reflecting on your experiences will not only provide valuable insights for future projects but also reinforce your outcome-oriented mindset. It’s about understanding what worked, what didn’t, and how you can improve in your next project. Remember, every project is a learning opportunity. So, take the time to reflect, learn, and grow.

It begins with a shift in mindset, ensuring a clear understanding of your outcomes, and a strategic alignment of your activities, coupled with regular monitoring of your progress, and ending with reflection on how to bring your new best practices on to the next project.

Join our new Run Your Own Marketing (RYOM) community at

We provide tools + resources (templates, guides, etc.), training, and solution-ing (process, curation, etc.) as well as a peer community to learn with, and to support you establishing a successful brand and business – regardless of whether you are a marketing specialist, communicator or a team member tasked to deliver the scope.

We share information like the article or post you have read, but in more detail and with more guidance on the steps.

With over 20+ years in the industry, we have created frameworks, methods and content that enable you and/or your team to deliver business outcomes relating to revenue, entry, scale, and expansion.

Here are 3 ways we support brands and communicators:

  1. Solutions and community: We support communicators and marketing specialists through RYOM with how-to and done-for-you tools, resources, workshops, and a hybrid system of in-person training and a cloud-based learning management system. Our proprietary content, and tools help communicators level up both skill sets and competencies, while solving current communications and marketing challenges.
  2. Business matching: We act as a middleman to match brands, agencies and contractors based on specific PR and marketing needs and outcomes.
  3. Consultancy and enablement: My team supports brands and agencies with a plug-and-play strategy and execution solution.

Set up a meeting with us if you are looking for to deliver growth outcomes for your organisation, brand or team.

And subscribe to join over 1500+ communicators and brands getting value every Tuesday while reading A Communicator’s Perspective, our weekly newsletter.